Recently, we had the opportunity to interview a representative of Zimfon, Brett Chulu, on the nature of the Zimfon service; what it offers, how its different from competition, the relationship to Africom and Guro-o. Brett Chulu for us has been the face of Zimfon as he’s the only one we’ve been in touch with on anything regarding the startup. We should mention though that when Zimfon announced the unlimited diaspora calling yesterday, Chulu revealed the following executives of the startup: Tonderai Tela, the Interim CEO, Esau Jabulani Mavindidze, the Chief Corporate Evangelist, and June D. Knight, the Chief Commercial Officer.
Here’s the interview:
Techzim: What problem is Zimfon addressing and how big is this market?
Chulu: Zimfon focuses on global Zimbabweans living in the diaspora. A major pain point in this market are the over- the- top calling rates to Zimbabwe on both VoIP and conventional GSM /CDMA networks. As a result, Zimbabweans in the diaspora do not talk as much as they would like to their loved ones back home in Zimbabwe. We want Zimbabweans in the diaspora to strengthen their social ties with their dear ones in Zimbabwe by making the cost of calling ultra-low. Text-based messaging is not adequate from a psycho-social perspective. People want to hear the voices of their loved ones. We do not want soft and tender moments to be spoilt by the fear of running up huge phone call bills.
If you are observant, our logo has a relaxed feel about it. One of our corporate colours is yellow. We also have a fun-dog mascot called Nobby. We value fun, which is depicted by the aspects of our corporate insignia I have just highlighted. We want to enable people in the diaspora to have fun while calling, hence, the ultra low cost of our calls to Zimbabwe. That is why we are focusing on the diaspora market, where there is high bandwidth to ensure high quality calls. Those in Zimbabwe will enjoy high quality communication through a non-VoIP solution from the Zimbabwe end.
You are looking at 3 million plus Zimbabweans in the diaspora. It’s a blue ocean. The ultra-low cost and unbeatable convenience we are offering should see us winning the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans in the diaspora.
Techzim: What is the competition?
Chulu: Our strategic competitive factor group comprises of global voice over Internet Protocol services such as Skype, Google Talk, Viber and Guroo. We do not think WhatsApp is our competitor. We are a dedicated voice call service provider. We do not consider our local MNOs competitors, because we are focused on the diaspora market. If anything, MNOs in Zimbabwe will benefit from calls originating from Zimfon in the diaspora terminating at Zimbabwe MNOs’. If you look at it from a financial perspective, Zimfon is directing foreign currency to Zimbabwe. We are contributing to easing liquidity in the Zimbabwe economy and as we grow, we will have a significant impact on mobilising foreign currency to Zimbabwe.
Techzim: How well does Zimfon compare with existing VoIP services on rates?
Chulu: There are two services Zimfon is giving. First, is the usual per second billing type of service. On this service, our diaspora customers can call all major phone networks in Zimbabwe from Zimfon. The rates are as follows; Zimfon to Telecel, 12 cents per minute; Zimfon to TelOne, 12 cents per minute, Zimfon to NetOne , 12 cents per minute, Zimfon to Econet, 12 cents per minute, Zimfon to Africom, 6 cents per minute.
The second service is going live on 15 October. This is unlimited calling from diaspora to Zimbabwe. It’s an eat-all-you-can service. The value of this deal is 2 cents per hour. That’s why we call it a no brainer. It’s bold and daring, a first of its kind in the international call-home and VoIP space.
Techzim: How is Zimfon routing calls to Zim networks that makes it afford lower rates than the competition?
Chulu: It’s our smart partnership with Africom that enables us to advance a powerful affordability value proposition. It’s a model of how entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe and those in the diaspora can forge synergies that benefit the Zimbabwe-diaspora ecosystem. As you know, one of the local Zimbabwe MNO, has a special arrangement with a South African MNO for its call-home service. Ours differs in that it’s Zimbabweans here and those Zimbabweans abroad who are partnering to solve pain points that no one in Zimbabwe has thought of addressing in the scale we are envisaging. Zim’s got talent. We are looking into evangelising the 3 million plus Zimbabweans in the diaspora to join the Zimfon ecosystem. Our business model is tightly linked to social innovation. We are as serious about business innovation as we are about social innovation. Our relationship with Africom allows us to do both.
The other thing is that we look at innovation from a much more holistic perspective than is common. We are not just about product innovation. We are equally passionate about business model innovation. Our relationship with Africom allows us scope to achieve business model innovation, in addition to product innovation.
I also mentioned that Guroo is our competitor. That might sound strange, given that Africom, Guroo’s parent is our strategic partner. Zimfon uses proprietary tools developed by Zimfon’s software engineers. In this global business arena, you have to use the “complete and compete” model. Plainly put, we complete each other in specific product lines and compete with each other in other lines. We believe that the diaspora market is big enough for several players. Competition and “completition” is a business model necessitated by the unique nature of the diaspora ecosystem.
Techzim: Besides rates what makes Zimfon stand out in the market?
Chulu: It’s our emphasis on social and business innovation that makes us stand apart in the international market.
This philosophy is reflected in our insignia and corporate colours. We use a white colour background to depict that we are kindhearted, fair, reliable and ethical. The red colour depicts are passion for deep innovation.
Specifically, we stand out in three areas:
First, social responsibility is part of our business model. It is not an afterthought. We will be launching what we are calling an “unlimited social fund”. How the unlimited social fund works is that, we are setting aside a portion from the income arising from subscribers signing up to our “no brainer” unlimited voice-call service. That fund will directly assist community based organisations (CBOs) in Zimbabwe.
Second, we are good at business model innovation. We have an online store that allows our customers in the diaspora to buy communication devices for their relatives and friends in Zimbabwe. We know our market very well. We have really crawled under the skin of our target diaspora market. People in the diaspora are hard pressed for time, and thus we save their valuable time by enabling them to purchase on line without having to worry about shipping. We are launching this capability as we officially launch our “no brainer” service. We are Friends and relatives pick up devices in Zimbabwe. That also explains why we value our relationship with Africom.
Third, we create and develop world-class IT assets in-house. Due to ownership of proprietary IT assets, we are able to develop products that will continue to address specific pain points in the diaspora market we understand very well.
Techzim: What kind of arrangement does Zimfon have with Africom that allows it connect calls at only 6 cents when all other networks are 12 cents?
Chulu: We have channel partner agreement with Africom. But, remember with our “no brainer” product, Zimbabweans in the diaspora, will be calling at a no-brainer rate of 2 cents per hour. We are willing to work with all progressive Zimbabweans to deliver real and deep value to the diaspora market. Zimfon, based in Pennsylvania, US, is a Delaware incorporated entity. It’s part of the Telematic group. Zimfon and Africom have collaborated to solve a cross-continental challenge involving Zimbabwe’s diaspora. This is a model we think other Zimbabweans should emulate.
Techzim: How will the mobile money service work? i.e. partner agents in Zim, rates
Chulu: This is work in progress. Fairness is part of our DNA as alluded to earlier. Convenience to the customer is an unwritten rule at Zimfon. These principles will guide our strategic decisions and investments.
Techzim: When is the remittance service expected to launch?
Chulu: We are currently focused on developing and establishing a firm presence in the diaspora call-home voice space. Focus, focus, focus and execution how we prefer to do things.